Australian national road champion Darren Lapthorne is ready to defend his crown in this Sunday's elite men's road race, but the Victorian knows it won't be an easy feat. The top of Australia's professional cyclists will take part in the national title race, with some 113 riders out to impress Olympic selectors and vie for the green and gold jersey.
"Definitely there's enormous pressure," Lapthorne told TheAge.com.au. "Last year I didn't have any pressure at all because my name wouldn't have been in the list of the top-20 riders. That was a huge advantage, actually. But this time it's definitely going to be a lot more difficult and because I also won a stage at the Bay criteriums I guess it's sort of obvious that I'm in quite good shape."
Lapthorne has enjoyed a sensational 12 months since claiming the national title, both at home and abroad, with the successes leading to the former Drapac-Porsche rider signing a contract with German outfit Sparkasse for 2008.
"It's an extremely tough race to win, and there's probably only a couple of per cent chance that I can do it again, but I've trained hard and to wear that jersey again would mean everything and I think I can do it," said Lapthorne.
The Victorian believes Rabobank's William Walker and Credit Agricole's Simon Gerrans will be his strongest rivals in the field. But despite the big names in the field, which contains top names like Stuart O'Grady and Michael Rogers, Lapthorne also believes his former team-mates at the Drapac-Porsche continental team will ride all out for the title.
"I'd say they're the two that are the most dangerous," said Lapthorne of Walker and Gerrans. "But then there will also be some riders like Peter McDonald who rides for Drapac (Porsche) and he has a very strong team around him – almost 10 riders that will be looking after him … and there are a number of other riders in that position."
The Australian Open Road Championships get underway today with the Elite Women's and Under 23 Time Trials. To read the full preview for the AORC, click here.